N° 8 October 2019 – Poste Italiane SpA – Spedizione in abbonamento postale – D.L. 353/2003 (conv. in L. 27/02/2004 n. 46) art. 1, comma 1, DCB Milano – ISSN 1824-8411


Educate, not ban

The earth is a big place to keep clean. With Litterati, an app

for users to identify, collect and geotag the world’s litter,

Jeff Kirschner has created a community that’s

crowdsource-cleaning the planet


ow do we react when we see cigarette butts,

waste paper or plastic items of various kinds

discarded on the beach, in parks or in city

streets? Most of us probably think, well, it isn’t “my”

waste; someone else will get rid of it. Well, that’s

certainly not the view taken by Jeff Kirschner, in-

ventor of an app called Litterati, designed with the

aim of creating a community willing to clean up the

world – piece by piece – through a fun and shared

experience. The idea came to him during a walk in

the woods near Oakland, when his four-year-old

daughter, on spotting a large piece of rubbish in a

creek, exclaimed: «That doesn’t go there!». The little

girl’s indignant remark triggered a train of thought

that took Jeff Kirschner back to the summer camps

of his childhood. «On the morning of visiting day,

right before they’d let our parents through the

gates, our camp director would say: “Quickly, ev-

eryone goes and pick up five pieces of litter”. In this

way, pretty soon we’d got a much cleaner camp.

So I thought: «Why not apply this same clean-up

model to the entire planet?» he recounts in a TED

Talk. And so, by himself, he embarked on a project

to make the world a litter-free place. Basically, he

wants users of the app to find litter, photograph

it and log it using the app, before picking it up

and disposing of it in an appropriate bin. This

is how it all started: «I took a photograph of

a cigarette using Instagram. Then, I took ano-

ther photo, and another photo, and another».

As the days went by the collection of photos

grew and became increasingly surprising, and

in some cases even artistic, but the most im-

portant thing was that «I realised that I was

keeping a record of the positive impact I was

having on the planet» Kirschner goes on. His

photographs were soon being shared on so-

cial networks, and many other people started


contributing to this “virtual landfill”, changing

their habits, behaving more responsibly, and,

ultimately, making our planet a better place.

Above all, the initiative has the effect of chan-

ging the way the problem is regarded, as pe-

ople who once felt alone in taking the trouble

to pick up waste resulting from the careless

and uncivil behaviour of others now reali-

se that they are part of a community with a

common purpose. The Litterati app curren-

tly aggregates millions of people around the

world, and has been met with a particularly

active response in the Netherlands (1,367,206

waste items collected) and the United States

(1,134,881), followed, some way behind, by

the UK (248,896), Australia (246,312), and Au-

stria (166,071). Italy does not feature in the sta-

tistics published on the homepage of litterati.

org. «One day a photo showed up from China, and

that’s when I realised that Litterati was more than

just pretty pictures» Kirschner says, explaining that

it was becoming a database of information that

tells you where litter is being left – every ima-

ge is mapped on Google – and what kind of

litter is most often abandoned. To date, almost

4 million items of waste have been logged and

collected, with #plastic (1,141,684) ones ma-

king up the vast majority, followed by #ciga-

rettes (357,253), #paper (334,159) and #can

(210,950). These data will certainly please pla-

stic-free campaigners, but at the same time

they show that waste paper is just as much

a problem for the environment as cigarette

butts. The statistics also report the frequency

with which certain brands appear as litter,

brands such as #McDonald’s (42,094) and

#Redbull (38,477). These data could poten-

tially be useful in efforts to get leading brands

to look for more environmentally sustainable

forms of packaging, or to promote more re-

sponsible behaviour by offering consumers

incentives for returning empty containers.

However, at the end of the day, it is natural

to wonder whether Litterati is merely a fun

social activity for the “greenest” among us, a

technology that promises great things in en-

vironmental terms which it may fail to deliver,

or a project with the capacity to promote real

change. Kirschner tells the story of how, a few

years ago, to address the problem of cigarette

butts, the city of San Francisco imposed a tax

on cigarette sales, only to then be sued by the

major tobacco companies. By making it pos-

sible to actually map the presence of cigaret-

te butts, Litterati provided the evidence that

allowed the city not only to win the case, but

also to double the tax, thereby generating an

annual recurring revenue of four million dol-

lars to help San Francisco to clean itself up.

Closer to home, a primary school in Mode-

sto, California, stopped buying plastic straws

for the school cafeteria after finding that they

made up most of the litter found in the scho-

olyard. In this particular setting, Kirschner fe-

els it would have been more appropriate to

focus on educating the children, increasing

the number of litter bins, and locating them

more strategically. This is indeed an approach

that, on the basis of the Litterati maps, could

be adopted by cities around the world.

The figures reported in this article are updated

as of September 9, 2019



In 2018, consumption of

biopolymers grew by 20%

in Italy, where this

industry represents

250 companies and a

2,500-strong workforce

Page 2



by Nicoletta Boniardi

Sustainability, a global

challenge that requires

innovation. A couple of

case studies of Italian

polymers and compounds



The leading topics for

K 2019 are digitization and

plastics for sustainable

development. Injection

moulding machine

manufacturers running

through them

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